When Teresa Gamez Pérez stepped into the Cattle Baron presidential suite at the Driskill Hotel on Tuesday night, she couldn’t help but think that just a few years ago her family of five slept on the floor of a one-room shed not much bigger than the suite’s living room.
"I don’t think I’m going to sleep tonight," she said with excitement.
As special guests of the hotel for one night, the family participated in the Driskill’s annual Tree Lighting Celebration. The family’s youngest child, Avia, 6, pulled the lever that lighted the Christmas tree before a cheering crowd.
"Never did I think that I’d ever stay here," said 23-year-old Kevin Moreno, the family’s eldest son. Moreno’s life turned upside down as a teenager when his father was incarcerated. He took on the responsibility of supporting his family and lifting them from the brink of homelessness.
The Moreno family is one of 12 featured families in the 2019 Statesman Season for Caring program, which helps hundreds of families through local nonprofit organizations. The Morenos were nominated by Foundation Communities.
This is the fifth year the Driskill has hosted a Season for Caring family to light its Christmas tree and spend the night. Before Tuesday night’s celebration, the family explored the sprawling 1,200-square-foot-suite in awe.
Youngest son Dylan, 19, grabbed a soft robe the room included to show his family. Gamez Pérez joked that she couldn’t decide which bathroom she wanted to use. And Avia’s eyes grew big as she pingponged between the master bedroom’s closet, bathroom and king-size bed.
"These are the surprises that life gives us," said Diamantina Pérez Gamez, the Morenos’ grandmother who lives with the family. "I’m so grateful and thankful to God. (Kevin) deserves this."
The event also launches the Driskill’s Season for Caring fundraiser, Cookies for Caring. For $50, people can buy a decorative tin and then fill the tin with cookies from chefs at the Driskill’s 1886 Café & Bakery, Cedar Door, Courtyard by Marriott Austin Pflugerville, Four Seasons Austin, Hilton Austin, Hyatt Regency Austin, Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, La Volpe, Omni Austin and Teddy V Cookies. Cookies for Caring will be 1-3 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Driskill. Last year, the event raised $11,382. Since 2015, Cookies for Caring has raised $29,407 for Season for Caring partner agencies.
Driskill General Manager Chris Collins said the holidays are a special time for the hotel to celebrate the community that supports it year after year. The Driskill ensured the Moreno family felt special by having a customized Driskill teddy bear waiting for Avia, giving the family a tour of the historic hotel and with cookies and room service sent to their suite and breakfast at the 1886 Café & Bakery, he said.
"Our goal was to provide a meaningful experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives, and seeing the way their faces lit up was a humbling reminder of how far a small gesture can go," Collins said.
To help the family remain free of homelessness, the Morenos could use assistance with rent and utilities; grocery store gift cards; help with tuition, books and fees for college; a computer; and help with storage shelves and organization.
To find out more about the Moreno family or to fulfill one of the wish list items, contact, Foundation Communities, 512-447-2026, foundcom.org.